Back in mid December when we’d gotten our holiday tree and were ready to devote an evening to decorating, I perused my small stock of wine for something light and easy to accompany our efforts. Goodness knows tree decorating can sometimes (read: often) be a challenge for me. Making sure the lights are working. If they aren’t, finding spare bulbs. Then getting the strands on the tree in an evenly dispersed yet naturalistic and harmoniously relaxed way. And that’s all before the decorations come out to play because lights always go on first in our house. No pressure. No pressure at all. Ha! Yes, tree decorating in my house is a tradition that takes time, consideration, and patience. Much like the enjoyment of wine, it is an experience to be savored not rushed. And no matter the result, it’s really all about doing it together.
Winemaker: Villa Sonia
Varietal: Pinot Grigio
Appellation: Venezia DOC – Piave, Italy
Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s
Notes: The color of this wine was a light Tuscan yellow. On the nose I caught scents of apple, citrus and spice. Acidity was high, and it was light on the tongue. Flavors I detected included pear, some apple, spice notes, a tart citrus and citrus zest on the finish. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t sip this by itself. Seems like it’s high acidity and citrus notes beg for a food pairing. Don’t have anything in mind, but maybe you will if you decide to give this one a go.
That’s right, I’m talking about cheap, cheap wine. Tisdale is a label that competes at around the same price point as the Whole Foods Three Wishes wines and Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw. Made by E&J Gallo, Tisdale has a full line of California Table Wine that includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sweet Red (a blend), and White Zinfandel. It’s sold at grocery stores and drug stores in my area at very low prices – sometimes available on sale for just over $3.00.
Notes: The color of this low-budget PG was very pale yellow with a slight green tinge. The bouquet was faint with scents of peach and lemon oil. What do I mean by lemon oil? I mean that lemony, bitter – almost chemical – smell that results when you squeeze lemon peel and express a liquid. Isn’t that lemon oil? Anyway, the acidity was OK, and alcohol was at 11.5%. It was light-bodied with some of the expected varietal viscosity. Flavors I detected were faint as well, including sweet melon and peach. As it wound down, this Tisdale also brought peach pit to the palate. It was all right, but to me the overall experience was a bit lackluster.
Where do all these different wine brands come from? Has there been a proliferation of new wineries in California recently? It seems every time I walk into a store, I find another new label. Then again, perhaps I’m not that good at remembering what I’ve seen on the shelves before. lol You know that movie “Fifty First Dates” with Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler? The one where Drew Barrymore’s character has had an accident and keeps losing her short term memory? Every day she wakes up and has no memory of the last 24 hours. So when Adam Sandler decides he wants to pursue Drew romantically … you get it, right? Well, maybe I’m having “Fifty First Sips.” Good thing I’m posting my wine experiences on this blog. That way I can check and see if I’ve had a wine previously. In this case, however, I’m certain I haven’t had a Mission Bell Pinot Grigio before … or a Mission Bell wine of any kind, for that matter. So this really was my first sip.
Winemaker: Mission Bell
Varietal: Pinot Grigio
Notes: The color of this Mission Bell selection was a light straw. The bouquet brought me scents of apple, lime and honey. Acidity was fine but perhaps a tad on the low side for a Pinot Grigio. It was light-bodied with a tad of the typical PG viscosity. On the palate it was pretty sweet – perhaps even sweeter than it’s 12.5% alcohol might suggest. Flavors included pear, some citrus, apple notes and a touch of a green herbal. It was OK, but for me it came across as a little on the heavy side due to the perceived sweetness and lower acidity. What can I say? That’s what I got – first sip to the last. (I didn’t count, but probably not quite fifty).
That’s B’ham as in Birmingham, Alabama. Not what you were expecting? Me neither!
On a road trip awhile back I had the time for a quick stop at the Vizzini Farms Winery in Calera, AL just south of Birmingham. It’s conveniently close to I-65 – just around the bend.
First, let me say that the staff are very friendly and helpful. In addition, the winery building has a relaxed coziness to it. Like many wineries these days, they have a little in-house bistro with indoor and outdoor seating. Seems like it must be pretty popular, because there were several occupied tables when I arrived in the mid-afternoon on a Monday. Since I was on a schedule, I didn’t have the time to linger and try their dishes. But I was able to belly up over at the wine bar where I tasted a few of their products. They make a full line of wines there but grow only their Muscadine grapes on site.
For the quick tasting I tried their Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Great White (Muscadine). It was an interesting group of selections. I didn’t take detailed notes. I was on a road trip, after all. Still, I did get definite impressions of several. For instance, I was fascinated by the intense viscosity and smokiness present in their Muscadine selection. The label indicates it’s made from Scuppernong grapes. In addition, I thought the Pinot Grigio and Viognier were very much in keeping with what I understand to be typical varietal characteristics. I was personally a little disappointed in the Pinot Noir. It wasn’t terrible, but it struck me as a bit weak and lacking in character. As for the Sangiovese, I bought a bottle so that I could ponder it at my leisure. They were willing to waive the $6 tasting fee if I bought something. So, of course, I did! I’ll be posting my tasting notes on that bottle soon.
Overall, it was a nice visit. I do wish I’d had more time to relax and enjoy their hospitality. Maybe next time I’m that far south I can drop in again. On the other hand, there are a number of other wineries on the Alabama Wine Trail.
I love a good catchy name for a winery or wine label – especially when it encapsulates the spirit of the winery and it’s wines. Aimed at the budget shopper who still wants to have a little vino with a casual dinner, the Flipflop brand is just such a winery. They’re so laid back and cool, they even have a peace sign on their label. I would have donned my own flipflops while sipping this Pinot Grigio if it weren’t so darned cold outside. Cool is great, but cold is … well, it’s cold.
Notes: This Californian was truly a pale straw color in the glass. On the nose I caught scents of sweet tropical fruits with hints of white pepper and a green leafy note. Acidity was fine if perhaps a little on the low side. The body was light with a very gentle viscosity, and the alcohol was at 12.5%. On the palate, however, the flavors I found were mostly melon and citrus with some light warm spice notes. The finish was fairly quick with a dose of chalk dust and grassy bitterness. By the way, I got this one on sale for $4.98.
This well-known Trader Joe’s brand simply must be a part of my tastings. After all, this is a blog focusing on inexpensive wines. While Charles Shaw can no longer be called Two Buck Chuck, it still sells at a very low price point.
Winemaker: Charles Shaw for Trader Joe’s
Varietal: Pinot Grigio
Price: $3.29 at Trader Joe’s
Notes: In the glass, this California PG was a light yellow color. The bouquet was extremely faint – as in almost none. So I’m not going to articulate specific scents this time around. If you decide to take a whiff yourself, let me know what you think. Alcohol was at 12.5%, the body was light with a pleasant gentle viscosity to it. Acidity was fine. Flavors I tasted included sweet pear and melon, grass, touches of oak, and a tad of a stony mineral to boot. I thought it was pretty decent on the front side, but the finish was long. That could be good except that the finish brought very present bitter grass and quinine to my palate. Even the light sweetness couldn’t mitigate the bitter finish. As a result, I will give this selection from the Charles Shaw shelves a pass next time I’m looking for a cheap Pinot Grigio. I like bitter flavors but appreciate them in moderation. If you like bitter flavors in abundance, this might work for you. Especially considering the price.
I love it when life imitates art and vice versa. What am I rambling on about now? Well, I’ve been reading (am still reading) a book about the modernist composer John Cage. He was an interesting guy. I suppose he’s best known for composing a piece of music that is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence called 4′ 33″. Of course, that wasn’t his only composition. He explored lots of new avenues, including electronic music when electronic music was brand new. And he is credited as the inventor of the prepared piano. A prepared piano is one in which the strings have been manipulated with additional items being attached to the strings to create very different sounds. But the sounds are carefully planned and created. Some of his pieces also rely on what he called indeterminacy – and that’s a whole other ball of wax I won’t get into here.
Anyway, Mr. Cage did a lot of traveling during his career. At one point he spent some time in Italy and rented a flat from a woman named Fontana. While in residence there, he composed one of his more famous pieces and named it after his landlady, calling it Fontana Mix. Imagine my surprise and delight when I recently found this bottle of Pinot Grigio on the shelves of my local grocer!
Notes: Bottled in the winemaker’s cellars at Monte Porzio Catone, this Pinot Grigio was a pale straw color in the glass. On the nose I smelled citrus (lemon), grass, honey and floral notes. The body was light and acidity was good. At 12% alcohol, this Italian white is a little off dry, but the acidity helps give it balance. On the palate I tasted light flavors of lemon, grass and artichoke with a touch of honey. There is also lemon zest which lingers on the fairly long finish. I liked it. I’ll have to look for the 2012 on the shelves as this was on half price markdown – to move the last few bottles in stock, I assume. Yep, that means I paid $5.49 this time around. But I’d gladly pay full price if the next vintage is anything like this one. Thank you, John Cage, for giving me the inspiration to try this bottle of Italian vino.
Here is a rendition of John Cage’s Fontana Mix for your entertainment and edification. If you have the time and inclination, head over to Youtube and read the text accompanying this video which explains the piece and it’s “indeterminate” composition.